Volunteers with Trout Unlimited are working with agencies like Tennessee Wildlife Resources to revitalize the brook trout population in Tennessee.
“The brook fish is primarily a fish of Pennsylvania and New York on up to Canada,” said Jim Herrig, a forest fisheries biologist with the Cherokee National Forest. “Although, a line goes down along the Appalachian mountains,” where the fish are indigenous.
Continued Herrig, “The Southern Appalachian brook trout range from Virginia down to Georgia and a little bit in South Carolina and quite a bit in North Carolina.”
About three years ago, volunteers with TU, in partnership with various agencies, decided it was time to build up the brook trout population.
They hoped to set up a small hatchery upstream from Tellico Plains.
“We wanted to set up a small hatchery to prove brook trout raised in captivity could produce hundreds, if not thousands, of fingerlings we could stock into the streams,” Herrig said.
The brook trout had never been reproduced in captivity. According to Herrig, they are extremely wild and they are very sensitive to any kind of stress. Brook trout under stress will not spawn.
A similar study being done with wild brown trout in Wisconsin gave TU an idea. Brook trout raised in covered tubs would not be stressed by human caretakers. A camera was installed in the tank to allow for a visual.
An old hatchery in Tellico was renovated by the volunteers. Herrig said the hope is the hatchery will prove what can be done with brook trout fish. A second hatchery has been set up at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.
Each system within the Tellico hatchery can raise up to 1,000 fingerlings. There is currently only one system set up, with plans to build an additional two more. Hatchlings are slowly moved from one stage to the next until they are ready to be released in the wild.
“Last year we produced about 100 brook trout and released those into the wild in Sycamore Creek,” Herrig said. “Today, we have about 640 brook trout at the hatchery. We had a very, very good spawn this year.”
Added Herrig, “We are learning a lot each year and hoping to get better.”
Herrig said reasons for the brook trout’s decrease in population goes back to the 1880s. Huge expanses of land were harvested of their trees for lumber. The ecosystem then had 30 years to recover before the logging companies returned. The second time was not as devastating as the first, but 100 to 200 acres of land were cut down at one time.
Herrig said the introduction of rainbow trout also had an adverse affect on the brook trout’s population. Rainbow trout were introduced to replenish the streams for fishing. They were the only fish raised in hatcheries, at the time.
Rainbow trout are now relocated before the brook trout are released into the wild.
Today, acid rain, climate change and fishing have an affect on the brook trout’s population. Herrig and other volunteers are trying to reverse the negative impact caused by nature and mankind.
In other Kiwanis news:
n At the annual celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday Saturday at Cleveland State Community College, Kiwanis members were set to read to children and hand out books.
n Larry Carpenter, Kiwanis member, introduced Mark Brew, Lee University baseball coach. Brew reminded Kiwanians of the Military Appreciation Day at Lee University’s Olympic field on March 23.